Over the 2018/19 festive period, Farm Table is presenting a series to celebrate the innovative ingenuity of farm inventions, big and small, and the farmers behind them.
Innovative solutions to problems are being developed and designed by Australian producers, and we are excited and proud to share these stories with you all.
We had the great opportunity to speak to Liz Atkins from Seagreen Farm Hubs, who is passionate about regenerative agriculture and farmer to farmer collaboration. We loved speaking to her and are grateful for sharing her story with us.
Liz, tell us about you and where you are based?
My name is Elizabeth Atkins, most people call me Liz and my family call me Lizzy. I live in a stone house on 4 beautiful acres on Wondecla Creek near Herberton in Far North Queensland. We are just under a thousand metres above sea level so although we are in the tropics it is cool here most of the time and I have a wood stove that keeps us warm right through winter.
I have 3 chooks – Pond, Ringo and Mad Margaret – and a cute fluffy little dog. There is just a bush block between us and World Heritage rainforest so we have lots of wildlife. Bettongs, pademelons, bandicoots, kangaroos, swamp wallabies and tree kangaroos. Luckily I don’t rely on my place to give me an income because it can be a challenge to grow anything here – this year being so dry the tree kangaroos have all but stripped my big mulberry tree. Usually it’s lush and green, this year you can see right through it.
I work part time in Herberton – I run the Herberton Mining Museum and Visitor Information Centre. I really enjoy the love my volunteers have for their museum and their town, and even when I do start making a real living from selling seaweed I don’t know that I would give it up.
So the rest of my time is spent selling seaweed. Although I don’t really see it as selling, more as promoting regenerative farming practices.
We really want to see food grown in a way that is kinder to our planet and beneficial to the health of all living things. We aren’t separate from the earth, we are part of it and if our environment isn’t healthy then how can we be?
Liz and her father at the recent Australian Biological Farming Conference on the Gold Coast
What is the nature of your on-farm innovation?
I have a company with my Mum and Dad called Seaweed Enterprises Australia (SEA) – my Dad has been selling our seaweed since the 1970’s, although he did retire for a few years in 2000. He loves telling people that he went back into business and started a company at 78. My Mum is only a year behind him – she taught herself to use MYOB a couple of years ago! They are both amazing people and I love working with them.
Our product Seagreen is pure seaweed, and seaweed is a gift from nature – a perfect, natural life and health promoter.
Our on-farm innovation is called Seagreen Hub Farms. Basically a farmer holds a pallet of Seagreen in his shed for us and other farmers in the area can buy from us and then pick up from the Hub Farm.
It has been very successful in cane farming areas and at the moment we have Hub Farms in Ingham, Ayr and Mackay with our first NSW Hub Farm at Alstonville coming soon to service macadamia and avocado farmers in that area.
Seagreen pure Ascophyllum nodosum is sustainably harvested in the pristine waters of the fjords of Norway. Each area is only picked once every four years. The incredibly cold water around the Arctic circle is what makes our seaweed “The Best on Earth”. This retro pic is from the 1980’s.
Why did you develop Seagreen Hub Farms? What was the problem you were hoping to solve?
Our two Seagreen products come in 20 and 25kg bags. Seagreen Soluble is super-concentrated and is used at the rate of only 1kg per hectare of crops. We found that farmers only needed to buy a few bags at a time but the problem was that transporting by the bag across our vast distances in Australia was very expensive. We needed to move a pallet at a time for it to be economical and for our sustainability objectives.
Also we wanted to sell directly to farmers. We found that retail agricultural suppliers are all owned by big companies that are difficult to deal with, are just about profits and wanted to dictate price to us. We decided very early on that these companies are not aligned with our values and that we really didn’t want them to be part of what we are doing.
This 20kg bag is the equivalent of about 5 x 20 litre drums of the liquid seaweed brands.
What have been the major successes?
The big one for me, and the big surprise, is that farmers love being a Hub Farm. All of our Hub Farmers have put their hand up to do this, we didn’t have to ask.
Our Hub Farmers are amazing people – they are all working really hard at finding regenerative solutions to the problems they have, and they are all keen to learn from other farmers. I think this is key.
Our customers who buy Seagreen are looking for a new way of doing what they do. Farming couples are concerned about the impact of agricultural chemicals on the health of their children. Our customers are part of the regenerative agricultural revolution that is happening right now, and they are looking for a natural product that works.
The Hub Farms bring like-minded farmers farming in the same area together to swap ideas and learn from each other.
A seaweed information day held at a Hub Farm in Mackay in August.
What have been the major challenges?
Our challenge is money – we are a tiny company, we started only 2 years ago with $5.000. We are growing steadily without having to borrow any money yet, but we are constantly scraping the bottom of our bank account to buy the next pallet.
So far as the Hub Farms go it hasn’t been a challenge at all really – it seems very simple but we have to have a process.
We do rely on and believe in the integrity of our Hub Farmers.
Do you have any advice for others looking to solve a problem they face on farm?
If you have an idea just go for it. Don’t try to pre-empt what you think will happen, you’ll always think of all the things that could go wrong and probably won’t!
And don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. If it’s advice you need just ask someone – everyone loves to be asked their opinion.
And if you need something done, in my experience, farmers are truly the most helpful people in the world.
Where can people find you?
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Thanks so much, Liz, for you honesty and openness in sharing your story. The hub concept is such a fantastic one and we wish you every success in the future!
Check out our previous conversations below.